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Boxed sets: Sumptuous musical gifts for the holidays

You'd think by now the vaults would be empty. But in fact, 2013 has produced a bumper crop of quality musical boxed sets, as the capsule reviews of pop, roots, classical, and jazz collections below reveal. True, much of the reissued music has been reissued before, but the devaluation of music has also challenged labels to be creative.

This year has produced a bumper crop of quality musical boxed sets. (Michael S. Wirtz/Staff Photographer)
This year has produced a bumper crop of quality musical boxed sets. (Michael S. Wirtz/Staff Photographer)Read more

You'd think by now the vaults would be empty.

But in fact, 2013 has produced a bumper crop of quality musical boxed sets, as the capsule reviews of pop, roots, classical, and jazz collections below reveal. True, much of the reissued music has been reissued before, but the devaluation of music has also challenged labels to be creative.

In addition to what's detailed below, lots of other boxed sets came out in 2013, many previously reviewed in these pages. Among the notables: Duane Allman's Skydog; Sly & the Family Stone's Higher; Steve Earle's The Warner Bros. Years; The Complete Chick Webb & Ella Fitzgerald Decca Sessions; and Elvis Presley's Elvis at Stax. And don't forget Cooler Than Ice: Arctic Records and the Rise of Philly Soul, a late 2012 issue devoted to the beginnings of the Sound of Philadelphia.

(Ratings: **** Excellent, *** Good, ** Fair, * Poor)


nolead begins The Animals
nolead ends nolead begins The Mickie Most Years and More
nolead ends nolead begins (ABKCO/Real Gone Music, ***1/2; 5 CDs, $84.98)

nolead ends Of the first wave of British Invasion bands, none was more rabidly intense about American blues and R&B than the Animals. This set presents the band's first four U.S. albums, as well as their debut EP, on CD for the first time, with a bit of bonus material. (Mickie Most was the producer.) Fronted by commanding singer Eric Burdon, the Animals brought a blistering new vitality to the American music the members worshiped. Most of the selections come from that source, including their breakout No. 1 hit, a devastating reinterpretation of the traditional "House of the Rising Sun." Also here are later new-music singles such as "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" and "It's My Life," whose class-conscious defiance and desperation were big influences on Bruce Springsteen, for one.

- Nick Cristiano

nolead begins The Band
nolead ends nolead begins Live at the Academy of Music, 1971
nolead ends nolead begins (Capitol, **1/2; 4 CDs, 1 DVD, $61.35)

nolead ends That's the Academy of Music in New York, not Philadelphia. The Band's concerts there on the last four nights of 1971 were originally documented on the 1972 live album Rock of Ages, already reissued with bonus tracks in 2001. The music on this set is great, but the set suffers from redundancies and misleading labeling. The first two discs build a set list compiled from multiple shows, the third and fourth contain the New Year's Eve show (which included a four-song Bob Dylan encore) in its entirety, and the DVD contains an audio-surround mix of that same show, with video of only two songs. And really, do we need liner notes from Jim James and Mumford & Sons telling us they think the Band is awesome?

- Dan DeLuca

nolead begins The Beach Boys
nolead ends nolead begins Made in California
nolead ends nolead begins (Capitol, ***1/2; 6 CDs, $105.73)

nolead ends The Beach Boys are the archetypal American dysfunctional-family band, and this sprawling set does justice to the Boys' uneven oeuvre, filled with harmony, happy highs, and irreconcilable lows. It's for serious fans only, telling the Wilson family story in unconventional fashion. It gets spotty after the first two near-perfect discs, but contains late-breaking gems, like the late Dennis Wilson's rare "(Wouldn't It Be Nice) to Live Again."

- D.D.

nolead begins The Clash
nolead ends nolead begins Sound System nolead ends nolead begins (Legacy, ****; 11 CDs, 1 DVD, $162.46)

nolead ends Clash guitarist Mick Jones was deeply involved in this be-all/end-all boombox-shape set, and the attention to detail shows. It includes all five great albums - and yes, 1982's Combat Rock belongs on that list - and tracks the British quartet's astonishingly speedy growth curve as the musicians move from rawboned punk through American rockabilly and R&B to Jamaican dub and hip-hop. Includes loads of audio and video extras, and bonus items like badges and decals. A band that burned hot in its time, and was well ahead of it.

- D.D.

nolead begins Bob Dylan
nolead ends nolead begins The Complete Albums Collection, Vol. 1
nolead ends nolead begins (Legacy, ****; 47 CDs, $179.98)

nolead ends nolead begins Another Self-Portrait (1969-71), The Bootleg Series, Vol. 10
nolead ends nolead begins (Legacy, ***1/2; 2 CDs, $17.90)

nolead ends Dylan has two stocking-stuffers on offer. The first collects all his official live and studio albums, from his fresh-faced folkie, Woody Guthrie-mimicking, self-titled debut in 1962 to last year's deathly Tempest. It's not all brilliant, but it's a bargain at less than $4 a disc. Less of a cash outlay is needed for Another Self-Portrait, which rectifies one of Dylan's weakest albums by stripping away perverse production touches, dropping some of the original's head-scratching howlers (like Paul Simon's "The Boxer") and adding choice outtakes.

- D.D.

nolead begins Donny Hathaway
nolead ends nolead begins Never My Love: The Anthology
nolead ends nolead begins (Rhino, ***; 4 CDs, $38.33)

nolead ends This collection is late to the Donny Hathaway revival party, with the likes of Alicia Keys and John Legend & the Roots covering songs by the classically trained soul man, who committed suicide in 1979. Never My Love gathers hits like "The Ghetto" and Leon Russell's "A Song For You," unreleased tracks from the mid-1970s fallow period, when Hathaway was struggling with mental illness, and includes a live disc and duets with Roberta Flack. It's not definitive - gems like his cover of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy" are missing. Still, there's enough to convey the range of Hathaway's talents and offer hard-core fans a fair share of previously unavailable nuggets.

- D.D.

nolead begins   nolead ends nolead begins   nolead ends nolead begins nolead ends   nolead begins Richard Pryor
nolead ends nolead begins No Pryor Restraint
nolead ends nolead begins (Shout Factory, ****; 7 CDs, 2 DVDs, $60.91)

nolead ends Best standup comic ever? The case is made in this voluminous box, which starts off with Pryor, during a 1966 San Francisco gig, riffing on growing up in Peoria, Ill., and shows his improvisational powers at their scintillating peak in 1979's Richard Pryor: Live in Concert, one of three full-length shows included in the package's DVD discs. Mel Brooks, Bob Newhart, and Dick Gregory testify to his greatness, and Pryor backs up their words on stage.

- D.D.


nolead begins Woody Guthrie
nolead ends nolead begins American Radical Patriot
nolead ends nolead begins (Rounder, ****; 6 CDs, 1 DVD, $139.98)

nolead ends The iconic folksinger's complete 1941 Library of Congress recordings are presented here in full for the first time. The songs are familiar ("Do-Re-Mi," "Dust Bowl Refugee," "Pretty Boy Floyd"), but it's entertaining and illuminating to hear them delivered in the context of Guthrie's storytelling about their origins and his upbringing in Oklahoma and Texas. The set also includes the 17 existing songs he wrote and recorded in 1942 for the Bonneville Power Authority (the DVD is a documentary about the incredibly prolific month he spent in the Pacific Northwest), as well as his work for the war effort and a public health campaign against VD. Everything here makes the case that, for all his reputation as a rabble-rousing lefty, Guthrie really was a patriot in the truest sense: He loved the best that Uncle Sam represented, but was not afraid to criticize when necessary. The hardcover-bound comes with a 60-page book and a PDF for a 258-page volume.

- N.C.

nolead begins Lee Hazlewood/Various Artists
nolead ends nolead begins There's A Dream I've Been Saving: Lee Hazlewood Industries 1966-1971
nolead ends nolead begins (Light in the Attic, ****; 8 CDs, $180)

nolead ends Moody '60s composer/producer/cowboy Hazlewood not only crafted spaghetti-Western pop tunes for himself and occasional duet partner Nancy Sinatra, but the enigmatic wonder also had his own LHI label with a weirdly diverse roster (Mexicali folk heroes, country-politan crooners) doing songs penned and produced by Hazelwood. At 300-plus songs and one mini-movie, this woolly mammoth of a set, featuring Vegas goddess Ann-Margret, lesser-known lasses like Suzi Jane Hokom, and Hazelwood's own deep rasp is a must for eccentric music aficionados.

- A.D. Amorosi

nolead begins Nashboro Label
nolead ends nolead begins I Heard the Angels Singing: Electrifying Black Gospel from the Nashboro Label, 1951-1983
nolead ends nolead begins (Tompkins Square, ****; 4 CDs, $29.95)

nolead ends This sanctified set expertly culls from great post-World War II gospel labels that specialized in a small groups with a gritty, echo-laden sound. Based in Tennessee, Nashboro released records from far and wide, with standouts including Michigan's Flying Clouds, Alabama's Gospel Harmonizers, and Philadelphia's Angelic Gospel Singers, who reach hopefully to the heavens with "I'm Getting Nearer, Pt. 1."

- D.D.

nolead begins Paramount Records
nolead ends nolead begins The Rise & Fall of Paramount Records, Volume 1, 1917-1927
nolead ends nolead begins (Third Man, ****; 6 LPs, 800 MP3s, $400)

nolead ends The prize musical-fetish object of the season is this lavish, 20-plus-pound oak box designed to look like one of the vintage phonographs manufactured by the Wisconsin Chair Co., which went into the music business to supply 78 r.p.m. discs to be played on their machines. The "Cabinet of Wonder," jointly released by Jack White's Third Man label, and Revenant, founded by John Fahey, lovingly documents "race music" blues, jazz, and gospel artists such as Blind Blake, Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Ma Rainey, and Chester's own Ethel Waters. It includes six marbleized brown LPs, a clothbound 250-page book reproducing ads in African American newspapers like the Chicago Defender, bio information on 172 artists, and a USB drive that holds 800 songs and unlocks Web extras. Worth it.

- D.D.


nolead begins Herbie Hancock
nolead ends nolead begins Herbie Hancock: The Complete Columbia Album Collection 1972-1988
nolead ends nolead begins (Legacy/Sony, ***1/2; 34 CDs, $213)

nolead ends In this 16-year capsule of his legendary career, pianist and composer Herbie Hancock shows how deftly he traversed the artistic and the commercial. This epic set begins as the onetime Chicago child prodigy is emerging from the second Miles Davis Quintet (1963-68) and creating the "Mwandishi" Sextet, which used African influences. It includes the famed Headhunters and V.S.O.P. recordings, the Oscar-winning soundtrack for the movie Round Midnight, the pop efforts of the Rockit band, and eight CDs released in Japan but never here. About half made Billboard's top 200 albums charts, attesting to Hancock's commercial juju. He was also an astute composer: The collection features multiple renditions of classic tunes, such as "Watermelon Man," "Maiden Voyage," and "Dolphin Dance."

- Karl Stark

nolead begins   nolead ends nolead begins   nolead ends nolead begins nolead ends      nolead begins Woody Shaw
nolead ends nolead begins The Complete Muse Sessions
nolead ends nolead begins (Mosaic, ***1/2; 7 CDs, $119)

nolead ends Trumpeter Woody Shaw was a lion of the horn. His exuberant sound and Minnie Riperton-like range are shown to good effect on these sides, which begin with a 1974-76 stretch of what Shaw called a "concert ensemble," a bigger group with multiple horns. The collection continues with quintet setups from 1965, 1976, and 1977, and a late period of refinement from 1985 to 1987, not long before Shaw died in 1989. The collection shows his evolution as a bandleader. It underscores his cooking side along with his fine instinct for balladry.

- K.S.


nolead begins Vladimir Horowitz
nolead ends nolead begins Vladimir Horowitz Live at Carnegie Hall
nolead ends nolead begins (Sony, ****; 41 CDs, 1 DVD, $105.31)

nolead ends One of the great musicians of the 20th century, Horowitz didn't approach any repertoire systematically. So the only sensible anthology approach is to present whole concert programs, all live, many widely circulated already (such as his 1965 comeback after a long retirement), but some never previously issued, including four discs from the pianist's private collection. Often thought to have acquired depth and maturity only in his later years, Horowitz is heard in the 1940s and '50s confiding in his audience one miraculously imaginative phrase reading after another. The sound quality isn't always great, but never are Horowitz' great powers of communication impeded in the least.

- David Patrick Stearns

nolead begins Giuseppe Verdi
nolead ends nolead begins The Complete Works
nolead ends nolead begins (Philips, ***1/2; 75 CDs, $144.79)

nolead ends It's all here - the string quartet, ballet music, choral works, and all of the operas, often in multiple versions (Don Carlo in French and Italian, La Forza del Destino in both 1862 and 1869 versions). Performances are thoughtful, intelligent, and civilized, with conductors such as Carlo Maria Giulini, Claudio Abbado, Riccardo Muti, and Carlos Kleiber, plus singers such as Carlo Bergonzi, Margaret Price, and Ileana Cotrubas. It's not for those who like more feral, life-and-death fierceness. Yet these performances show what lies beneath the surface heat of the operas, which is particularly valuable in Verdi's "other half" - earlier works such as Oberto that are far better than history would have us think.

- D.P.S.

nolead begins Wolfgang Sawallisch
nolead ends nolead begins Sawallisch in Prague
nolead ends nolead begins (Supraphon, ***1/2; 5 CDs, $34.86)

nolead ends Before becoming Philadelphia Orchestra music director, Sawallisch was a beloved guest of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, as documented in these five discs of previously unissued live performances. Leaner and less suave than the orchestras he was used to, the Czech orchestra nevertheless had a distinctive electricity with Sawallisch in Mozart (Symphonies Nos. 40 and 41), Beethoven (1 and 6), Mendelssohn (2), and less characteristic repertoire such as Janácek's Glagolitic Mass and Martinu's Symphony No. 4. An important chapter in the maestro's life.

- D.P.S.

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